Keeping America Strong. Promoting Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Abroad.

Petition for the 67th Session of the U.N. General Assembly

Special Political and Decolonization Committee /IVth Committee 

October 12, 2012

 Robin Kahn

Mr. Chairman and Fellow Petitioners:

I am here in support of the Sahrawi peoples right to self-determination.

As an American citizen, educated at Barnard College, Columbia University, I am speaking on my own behalf, guided by the principles of moral obligation.

I was invited to participate in an arts festival organized by the Minister of Culture and the Asociación de Amistad con el Pueblo Saharaui de Sevilla. I lived with families in each of the five Tindouf Refugee Camps, implementing a project that explores how Sahrawi women provide sustenance and hope to families who have been living in exile for the past 38 years.

By joining in every aspect of their daily lives, I learned about the Sahrawi woman’s role as a mother; as the center of every aspect of the Camp’s family, civic and cultural life - and specifically how they manage to feed their families and create a sense of tradition, of order and continuity in a land where there is NO running water, NO indoor plumbing and where the people can NOT grow their own food; but instead, are forced to rely on humanitarian aid for their Survival.

In addition to these daily struggles endured by the Sahrawi living in the Camps, I heard personal stories about how they first arrived in the Hamada-the hottest, most unlivable part of the Saharan desert; about how from the sand, they built a society-in-exile, with an educational and cultural infrastructure where there is 99 percent literacy and where, in 1976, they drafted a constitution-in-exile, granting women equal rights with men.

They also shared their memories of the land that they were forced to flee, recounting where they were when bombs were dropping, who they had escaped with, who was separated from them, disappeared or killed. And I came to understand how these memories reinforce the Sahrawi’s collective goal of returning to their homeland and reuniting the homes from which they were illegally and violently uprooted beginning with Morocco’s Green March in 1975.

There is not one inhabitant in The Camps who doesn’t have family living in the Territory in Western Sahara that is currently occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco.

Because there is no U.N. Sanctioned Human Rights Mandate in place, these Sahrawi relatives’ peaceful demonstrations are met with the Moroccans’ systematic agenda of violence and brutality.

I have spoken to many of these victims, read their personal statements and witnessed in all sorts of documentary material, too many accounts by Sahrawi of being subjected to rape, to torture; forced to watch as their loved ones were killed in front of their eyes or- like Aminatou Haidar-being prevented from seeing, bound and blindfolded day and night for years.

And how do WE, the international community of nations, respond? We maintain our silence, watching from the sidelines.

How can this be the only country, the only people with NO human rights protection? As an American, a woman, a provider and a mother, I am outraged. Doesn’t our silence signify complicity? Isn’t our inaction, a tacit consent? How much longer does a Sahrawi mother have to introduce her newborn to a life defined by Occupation and Exile?

This stalemate of polarized ideologies and party politics is responsible for keeping the status of Western Sahara as one of Africa’s last remaining colonies. It is my profound hope that the principles of a CIVILIZED international United Nations will prevail to ensure that ALL global citizens have a mandate in place that protects their basic human rights AND that today, we will make good on the U.N.’s 1991 promise to the people of Western Sahara AND SET A DATE for a Referendum, in front of an impartial Security Council, where the Sahrawi people’s voices will finally be heard as they elect to reunify their homeland and regain their right for independence.

Thank you.